European regulators expand antitrust case against Google

European regulators expand antitrust case against Google
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European regulators are opening up a third front in their yearslong antitrust probe against Google. 

The European Commission on Thursday accused Google of hindering competition in a little-known market in which Google allows companies like newspapers and shopping websites to embed a limited version of Google’s search engine so customers can navigate their websites.

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The partnership allows companies to avoid creating their own limited search tool for their websites. Ads are displayed in those search results, just as they are in regular Google searches, and Google and the websites share revenue when people click on the ads. 

Regulators say Google controls about 80 percent of that market in Europe and accuse the search giant of imposing strict terms on some of its largest partners. Those include limiting its partners from displaying ads from competitors in the search results and requiring that Google search ads get prominent placement. 

“It has prevented existing and potential competitors, including other search providers and online advertising platforms, from entering and growing in this commercially important area,” according to the European Commission’s statement. 

Since the probe began, Google has relaxed those terms.

The search giant pushed back and said it will respond in the coming weeks.  

“We believe that our innovations and product improvements have increased choice for European consumers and promote competition,” a Google spokesperson said. 

European regulators have already outlined allegations about Google’s Android operating system and its comparison shopping tool, which is featured in traditional search results. 

In addition to the new allegations, regulators are also bolstering their argument in the comparison shopping case. Regulators had previously found that Google has systematically favored its own comparison shopping tool in search results. 

On Thursday, regulators tried to undercut one of Google’s central arguments against the charges — that the online shopping market is increasingly competitive because many shoppers skip search and go directly to rival platforms like Amazon and eBay, especially with the explosion of smartphones. 

“The Commission continues to consider that comparison shopping services and merchant platforms belong to separate markets,” regulators said in their statement. “In any event, today's supplementary Statement of Objections finds that even if merchant platforms are included in the market affected by Google's practices, comparison shopping services are a significant part of that market and Google's conduct has weakened or even marginalized competition from its closest rivals.”